‘Duplicity’ an underwhelming spy comedy

Scott Viau

Film: Duplicity

Director: Tony Gilroy

Producers: Laura Bickford,

Jennifer Fox

Writer: Tony Gilroy

Starring: Julia Roberts,

Clive Owen

Runtime: 125 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Although she’s highly overrated, Julia Roberts is generally a strong actress. Clive Owen, who hasn’t been picky lately when it comes to film, can deliver a fine performance, for the most part. Naturally the reunion of these two actors in “Duplicity” should make for an enjoyable film, if nothing else. Yet the end product is less than thrilling, and for two hours we’re stuck in a theater watching a joyless rendition of a double agent film.

Ray Koval (Owen) and Claire Stenwick (Roberts) are “rival agents” with a shared history who have given up working for the government and are now employed at competing corporations. When one of the companies claims it will be releasing a groundbreaking product, Koval and Stenwick must work together to steal the formula for this miracle concoction in order to make their dreams a reality. Yet, to get the formula, Koval and Stenwick must first come to terms with the feelings they have for one another and ask themselves if the other is trustworthy. While every other critic is claiming how much chemistry there is between Roberts and Owen, the reality of the situation is that there’s hardly anything there at all. Watching the film, I couldn’t care less whether these people ended up together or not, nor did I find them entertaining to watch. They’re just two pretty people pretending to be interested in one another. The one bright side of this movie, though, is the addition of Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson as the CEOs of the rival corporations. Although the latter is woefully underused, Giamatti has great fun playing an unscrupulous man willing to do anything to get ahead.

Given director Tony Gilroy’s previous effort, “Michael Clayton,” it’s no surprise at all that this film contains the same sense of importance that “Clayton” did, only this time it’s hidden beneath a comedic plot. In fact, it’s more like an amalgamation of both “Clayton” and the “Ocean’s” movies, except a lot less fun and exciting. Gilroy’s efforts to make this his own movie fall through, since his use of music and cinematography is so reminiscent of “Ocean’s” that comparisons will be unavoidable. Julia Roberts might as well have reprised her role from the original heist flick.

“Duplicity” would be a salvageable film if it wasn’t for the script, which Gilroy is also responsible for. While trying to create an atmosphere that is fresh and entertaining, we instead receive one that is trite and tried. The plot twists throughout the film, and there are many of them, are used far too often to actually hold any credibility. The relationship between Owen and Roberts, which is slowly revealed throughout the film, is supposed to keep us entertained and interested, but usually only annoys and irritates.

What could have been one of the most fun films in the first quarter of ’09 turned out to be one of the dullest, which is a shame since the cast is obviously talented and the director is not without merit. Due to the lack of chemistry between the leads and a script that features far more plot twists than are necessary, “Duplicity” trips over its own legs and becomes a less than average film that happens to feature big name stars.